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Phil-in’ Good …

Posted By Will Weiss On August 3, 2011 @ 12:15 am In 1: Featured,Will Weiss,Yankees | Comments Disabled

Derek Jeter and Mark Teixeira [1]

Derek Jeter and Mark Teixeira bolstered the Yankees' offense.

The general consensus heading into Tuesday night’s matchup with the Chicago White Sox was that Phil Hughes, ye of the 8.24 ERA and 1.90 WHIP, would be the odd man out of the Yankees’ newfangled six-man outfit. In his last two starts, he chumped his way through the Oakland A’s lineup in a way that Ivan Nova didn’t when being given a huge lead, and then struggled through six innings against a Seattle Mariners team that is redefining feeble.

Hughes was seen throwing in the bullpen during Saturday’s Game 2 blowout, and later confirmed it was a scheduled throw day and he was still trying to find his mechanics. Maybe something clicked in that session and he didn’t leave it all on the range, so to speak.

Hughes barreled his way through the White Sox lineup, allowing just three base runners in six innings, and throwing only 65 pitches before rain halted play prior to the bottom of the seventh inning. It was the hardest Hughes had thrown all year — he was consistently in the mid-90s with his fastball and spotted it as well as he has all year. He was aggressive when reaching two strikes on hitters. Hughes ended the first inning with a 95-mph fastball on the outside corner to strike out Carlos Quentin looking. In the second, he struck out A.J. Pierzynski on a nasty 0-2 curveball and later blew away Gordon Beckham with a letter-high fastball clocked at 94 mph. We haven’t seen Hughes at that level of attack mode since 2009, when he was Mariano Rivera’s setup man.

In addition to being aggressive, Hughes, who had averaged 15 pitches per inning and slightly better than 5 1/3 innings pitched over his first seven starts of the season, was efficient. He needed only 65 pitches to get through his six innings. Hughes had also entered the game with a decidedly higher ratio of flyball outs to groundball outs (2.23-to-1). He balanced that out to an even 1-to-1, inducing seven groundball outs and seven flyball outs.

On the YES telecast at the start of the rain delay, Michael Kay opined, “If someone said to Brian Cashman, ‘Hey Brian, if you could acquire a 25-year-old All-Star, would you take it?’ He might get that back right now.” Is Kay’s praise overstated? Hughes looked an awful lot like the pitcher who earned an All-Star selection in 2010, won 18 games and was the No. 2 starter in the playoffs before his mysterious deadarm period. It was his best outing of the season to date. It was also the third time in his last four starts that he completed six innings, so perhaps Hughes’ stamina is increasing along with his arm strength.

Perhaps Hughes’ success coming on the road should not be viewed as a surprise. Last year, in 13 road appearances, Hughes’ ERA was more than a run lower (3.47 to 4.66), his BAA was 10 points lower (.238 to .248), opponents’ slugging percentage was more than 100 points lower (.336 to .443), and his K/BB ratio was better than 3-to-1, compared to 2-to-1 at home.

What to make of this? We need to see a larger sample size to get a true gauge of what Phil Hughes is, and what he will be. The Yankees like their “proven guys” heading into the playoffs. That he didn’t lose his spot in the rotation after his DL stint, despite numbers that resembled Chien-Ming Wang circa, well, since he injured himself running the bases in Houston in 2009, proves the Yankees want Hughes to be one of their guys down the stretch and beyond.

Hughes still has some proving to do, but the initial signs are encouraging.

BIG BATS, BIG TEX
Hughes benefited once again from great run support. Sixteen times last year the Yankees scored 6 runs or more for him, and they’ve now done it in two of his last three starts.

The Yankees jumped on lefty John Danks early, scoring in each of the first three innings. They broke the game open with two more in the sixth. Mark Teixeira homered from both sides of the plate to come within one of Jose Bautista’s American League lead. The two home runs were also historic: his first home run, a two-run shot in the fourth off Danks (batting right-handed), marked the eighth straight season Tex has hit at least 30 home runs. His solo shot in the sixth off Jason Frasor (batting left-handed), marked the 12th time in his career he’s homered from both sides of the plate in the same game. Teixeira is now the all-time leader in that category.

In another under-the-radar note, Derek Jeter’s first inning single moved him past Rafael Palmeiro for 24th on the all-time hits list. His next hit will tie him with Lou Brock. At his current pace, he should pass Rod Carew (3,053), Rickey Henderson (3,055), and Craig Biggio (3,060) and finish the season at No. 20.

Final: 6-0 (7 innings).


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